It was not exactly a Clasico that will go down in history, but it did make a bit of unwanted history. This was the first goalless draw in the league between Barcelona and Real Madrid since 2002, and just the second in the last 30 years. Dead level in the game, dead level in the league, and dead enough on the pitch.
A match that had such tension around it – and outside it – had almost none on the pitch, bar a few flickers like Gareth Bale’s disallowed goal.
There was still a political protest in the 55th minute, when so many yellow beach balls were hurled onto the pitch in the name Catalan nationalism, to go with what had been a civilised demonstration before the game.
It was not one of those occasions, though, where the politics infused the actual match with any extra intensity.
That is probably for the best given the potential for strife in this area, and reports of clashes and disturbances outside. There was a distinctive smell of smoke around the stadium.
As regards the relative meaninglessness of the actual football, though, it was in its own way an indictment of the declining quality of these years. This was not just the worst Clasico for years, but may well reflect that these are the worst Barca and Madrid teams in quite some time.
It has got to the point where Lionel Messi is not just obviously the best in the world, but so much better than anyone else in these sides, to a degree that is almost damning. The dependence on him is now so deep, but it must mean the frustration from him is so often profound.
There are too many occasions where he seems to make it so easy for teammates, only for them to somehow do the impossible of messing it up.
The first half alone offered what for many players would be a season highlight reel of passes for anyone else, but for Messi was just another game. Most of those passes were for the same player in Jordi Alaba, but through an impressively different range of balls.
One was a glorious lofted delivery from distance after a deft touch in the centre. The next was a Xavi-like through ball. The third was a delightful pitch over the top.
It was that last one that put Alba right in on goal unmarked, only for the left-back to steer it wide first-time. It was as if he was almost caught cold by how good the pass was, something that shouldn’t really come as a shock to anyone who’s spent a mere few minutes with Messi, let alone so many years.
Much of this match was a shock to the system for Barca in other ways, mind. Madrid looked to have a more workable system, and one better suited to imposing your football on the opposition. There were long spells when they were hemming Barca in around Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal. It was usually only the goalkeeper’s brilliance that kept them out, although Gerard Pique did clear a Casemiro header off the line. Jan Valverde was particularly prodding play, and also prompting fine saves from Ter Stegen.
Some of this was obviously down to the absence of Sergio Busquets, who is literally central to so many of their principles, but it must still have been disconcerting just how much Madrid dictated the ball at this stadium.
That would have been unimaginable in the first Clasicos of this decade, showing how much has changed by its end. Against that, Barca were dependent on more staccato moments of play, even if they did involve some flowing moves.
Frenkie de Jong suggested his immense talent in these moments, while Antoine Griezmann showed he is continuing to get to grips with this team. It was the French star who did all the good work in Messi’s one under-par moment when he played the ball back in straight in front of goal, only for the Argentine to fluff it.
Bale didn’t make the same mistake minutes later, but then Madrid did have the advantage of a marginal offside. VAR ruled it out, with relative speed. The Nou Camp could breathe again.
They couldn’t quite prise Madrid open again though. One half-chance fell to Luis Suarez late on, but his effort was so wayward that it reflected the direction of these teams of late, and similarly finished the game without a goal. A little bit of unwanted history, at a lesser point in history.
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